Ethiopian journalist Woubshet Taye was arrested in June 2011 and has been held behind bars since then. For doing his job as a journalist, he was sentenced 14 years on anti-state charges. Zone 9 Blogger BefeQadu Z. Hailu, who himself was jailed in 2014-2015, writes about his visit to Woubshet in Zeway Prison.
Woubshet is father of a 7 year-old boy, Fiteh. He is also a husband. He used to be editor-in-chief of Awramba Times, weekly newspaper, before he was arrested and convicted of “terrorism”. He was charged with four other people, including journalists Reeyot Alemu and Elias Kifle. All were “found guilty.” Elias was charged in absentia. Reeyot was released a few days before Barack Obama’s first visit to Ethiopia. Many assume the United States president’s visit influenced her release. Woubshet, however, remains behind bars.
Today, I went to the very hot and dusty town of Zeway, where Woubsbet is jailed. He is kept in a ‘Special Security Zone’ (ልዩ ጥበቃ ዞን) where only 20 people are held. The degree of security is high and the censorship is heavy. Visitors have tried to bring him books, but only a few fiction books have been allowed to pass through. Woubshet has however managed to write and publish a book from prison. It is titled Yenetsanet Dimtsoch (The Voice of Freedom: from Maekelawi to Zeway Prison). The book is a collection of essays where he writes about the challenges he and other journalists have faced. But searches in the cells are frequent, and he says that writing more is difficult. When I talked to Woubshet, four guards were by his side listening to what we said to each other. But, even though it was hardly possible to talk freely, he seemed to not be concerned about their listening. I found Woubshet more eloquent and gentler than before going to prison. He looked very comfortable and seemed to have gotten used to this tough situation he is passing through.
Woubshet has won two international awards for his work – CNN’s African Journalist of the Year in 2013 and Human Rights Watch Hellman/Hammett Award of 2012. Despite his accomplishments and the tough situation he is in, the local people and his colleagues often seem to have forgotten all about him. Not many people visit him regularly. It is mostly only his wife and son who are always there for him.
Even with all the challenges, he is in a very good shape both psychologically and physically. Woubshet has already served 5 of his 14-year prison sentence. Before I left, he asked me to pass his greetings to many people with whom he had worked, as well as those with whom he had passed prison times, including the Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye.